By now, very few parts of the world are yet to be affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
The outbreak is causing new problems and exacerbating existing ones for communities everywhere, and it’s quite easy to feel powerless against this invisible force.
Fortunately there are already countless stories of young people and their communities organising to stem the outbreak and support each other through the consequences.
Here are three reasons why the power of young people and communities can not be underestimated in changing the course of the pandemic.
1. Top-down messaging alone doesn’t work
In the early stages of the 2014-16 Ebola outbreak, response efforts often provided top-down health information via one-way communication broadcast to individuals and communities. Not only did this approach fail to change people’s behaviours to stop the spread, it often led people to hide from authorities or to avoid seeking medical care. But where outside experts and top-down messaging failed, communities succeeded in changing behaviour by crafting messages and using the channels that worked for them. Communities developed their own action plans and the results began to turn the tide on the spread – referrals of sick household members increased and people carried out safe burials for family members who had died from Ebola.
2. Young people and communities are perfect partners
Thousands of young people mobilised across every single district of Sierra Leone to shape the way communities responded to Ebola. Where outsiders in many instances were treated with distrust, young people could over time build trust and partnerships in communities to share live-saving information and knowledge. In many African countries, young people make up the majority the population, so scaling any kind of behavior change isn’t possible without their support and influence.
3. Communities are experts in how to engage themselves
Authorities and aid agencies may have technical knowledge on how to stop the spread, but young people and communities are experts in how to craft messages and use communications channels that work for them.
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is very different to the coronavirus pandemic. But in any crisis, relying on homogenous messages alone to change behaviour will fail. It must be complemented by listening, by two-way communication and by community ownership of the response.